Live Review: Phantogram – The Midland, Kansas City (14.10.16)

Last Friday night showed the clear evolution and ambition of one of alt-rock’s most interesting and envelope-pushing bands.  Phantogram is composed of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, the two have been making music together since 2009 and their electronic, rock outfit just released their third album appropriately titled Three.

As the lights went down on this show, it was clear Phantogram had a few special surprises for their latest tour. The show began with Carter and Barthel behind the backstage curtains with their silhouettes towering over the stage like two giants. The ambient, hypnotic sound of their opening track “Funeral Pyre” set the tone for their show and their new sound. The dark, pulsating beat created a tense feeling as if something was about to explode.

The production of their new tour incorporated something I had never seen before as the crew had lowered a transparent curtain in front of the band on stage. This allowed the band’s videos, lights and laser shows to create a three-dimensional effect of boxes, lines, stars, and videos of the band members in front and behind them on stage. It was mesmerizing, enchanting and at times disorienting.

This created a sort of four-dimensional concert experience. Phantogram’s new sound definitely was pitch perfect for this ultra-ambient experience. This evolution in sound has made them move away from comparisons to bands like Purity Ring, Grouplove and CHVRCHES, and now their euphoric sound mirrors bands like M83, Sleigh Bells and at times, they brought to mind the grandiose of U2. This is obviously a giant step for a band that has been stuck in the mid cards of festivals all over the world, but the release of their latest single, “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore”, shows they might be primed for a massive surge in popularity.

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The band played seven tracks from their newest album Three and several of them popped on a massive scale thanks to their incredible stage production. “Funeral Pyre” was an incredible way to start their show and really a great preview of their progress as a band. “You’re Mine” captures their great sound they created with their side project Big Grams (with Outkast’s Big Boi), but Carter steps in and hold his own going and back and forth with Barthel.

Lead singer Barthel has always been the face of the band, with her incredible voice and even greater stage presence. Barthel has the ability to portray someone with so much anger and rage on stage, yet still seem so likable and warm. Her voice and star shines through on several of the new tracks live especially during “Destroyer”. This song included yet another trick, as they had her in the center of the stage with a large black trench coat that was hooked up to a smoke machine. By this point, the front curtain had dropped and only sheets in the back brought up projections. At this time, flames were rippling on the backdrop behind them and with the smoke billowing from Barthel’s back it created yet another mesmerizing visual.

Phantogram didn’t shy away from playing their best hits and satisfying their oldest fans. “Black Out Days”, “Fall in Love”, and “When I’m Small” were met with huge cheers and much excitement and sounded as alive and energy packed as ever. These songs gave you an idea of why they become the band they are today but also gives you a respect for the leap and maturation they are showing. After closing with “When I’m Small” and coming out for a four song encore, the band chose to finish their set with their latest single, “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.”

I absolutely loved this choice. This song has received as much radio traction as any of their established hits in just the past few months, but it pops live just as much, if not more than any other track they have produced. For the past seven years Phantogram has never failed to get the crowd up and down and grooving with every beat they have ever made. Their choice to close with their newest hit song was definitely the most appropriate way to close a show that really marked the arrival of a bigger, greater band.

Phantogram will be coming to Australia for three shows at the end of the year. They will be playing the Southbound Festival on December 28th, Field Day on January 1st and the Enmore Theatre on January 3rd.

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